Drab no longer: we drive the most interesting Toyota ever made
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One of Toyota's wildest lookers; the C-HR
The schoolyard economics of trading lunches reflects the earliest point in a person's life where they have to weigh up the value of what they own.
I was never a big-time player, but would engage in the odd trade behind the bike sheds. Most of the time I was on the money, but not always.
During my first year of intermediate, I blindly agreed to what I thought was the trade of the century; a sandwich constructed on a foundation of crisp white bread, for free.
As I bit in, my teeth tore through a mysterious black tar. The first reaction was one of confusion, immediately trailed by disgust. Reluctantly, I worked my way through the mouthful before smoothly touring the bin, hoping to avoid suspicion.
It was the first and last time I've eaten Marmite. But, though it's clearly an acquired taste, I can understand its value. It's a foodstuff that challenges you; dares you to embrace it. And for some, nothing else comes close.
Products like Marmite are a rarity in today's world, and cars are no different. The reason new cars "all look the same" according to your non-car buddies is because car makers don't want buyers to scare people off with something that is unfamiliar or offensive.
What a surprise, then, that the car maker creating one of the most visually challenging cars on the market today — the new C-HR crossover — is Toyota.
Every day I spent with the two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive C-HRs (depicted in Electric Teal and Ink Black respectively) was punctuated by the discovery of something new.
The deep character gauge that tracks from the headlight, down the front doors, along the side skirts, before curling into the rear window forms the shape of a diamond. The shape between those tail-lights on the rear hatch is a diamond. Diamonds are imprinted on the door cards, embedded in the ceiling liner, outlined throughout the dashboard.
Every spherical microgram of the C-HR's exterior design is insane. Some will hate it, some will love it. The point is, all will have an opinion.
I think it's the best-looking car Toyota's made in 20 years.
The interior is, perhaps, more agreeable. Materials are mostly soft to the touch, and the looks are classy and clever. The layered design oozes across the dashboard and into the door cards, giving those in the front a comfortable, fitted space.
The technology is good, too, especially stacked up next to its rivals. Adaptive cruise control, satnav, and lane assist are all standard. The infotainment screen is one of the most effectively integrated on the market, perched atop the driver-orientated centre stack.
Drawbacks in this regard include no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and the tiny 6.1-inch infotainment screen is hampered further by a slow, dated system.
There's a thought with cars like these that style overtakes substance, and it's a notion that crosses one's mind as eyes pause on one particular line in the CH-R's brochure; "turbo 1.2-litre petrol engine". And there's no immediate assurance in the following digits — 85kW and 185Nm at 1500-4000rpm — either.
However, the quirky cross is, once again, keen to surprise. I challenge anyone to prove that the amount of oomph from Toyota's little inline four isn't sufficient in either the 2WD or AWD; especially for a vehicle that will be more commonly seen navigating urban sprawl, rather than the race track.
The turbocharged 1.2 feels sprightly and responds quickly to input. The response is clean and linear, with only a fleeting whiff of turbo lag. It does feel a little inadequate when you need to call on power to make overtakes on the motorway, but this is a solitary fly in an otherwise clean ointment.
It's even, dare I say it, fun to drive. Being built on the same TNGA architecture as the current Toyota Prius doesn't conjure much in the way of hope. But that all changes once the first apex is struck.
Steering is numb, but very direct, and the car rotates through corners with limited understeer and, surprisingly, almost no body roll. MacPherson strut suspension in front, lovely Michelin 225/50R18s all round, and a surprisingly adequate chassis underneath play their part. The 7-speed CVT spoils the party, somewhat, but at the very least it's smooth and refined.
Of the pair, it's the front-wheel drive C-HR that's better to live with. Although its weight advantage is less than 100kg (65kg to be exact), it feels the more eager of the pair. Especially in town.
So, the C-HR is great inside, great to drive — and with the 2WD starting at $37,990, it's well-priced. But, if you're eyeing one of these as a family wagon, heed this one warning.
There's no shortage of room in the back of the C-HR. Your rear occupants will travel with more space than they would in, say, a Mazda CX-3. But, they'll also be travelling with limited visibility, because the rear windows of the C-HR are quite possibly the smallest of any five-door passenger car devised.
That design I fawned over at the beginning? It comes at the cost of rear passenger visibility and, by proxy, rear driver visibility. And whereas the driver can use the reversing camera and blind-spot monitors that come as standard, rear passengers simply have to live with one of the most claustrophobic rear seats in modern motoring.
That may provide some amusement from adult friends but it could be a deal-breaker if you're shopping for something child-friendly with an edge.
And, unlike those lousy school lunches of yesteryear, your children can't simply trade it away for something better.
PRICE: $37,990 (2WD price. AWD $39,990)
PROS: Looks like nothing else. Refined, fun to drive
CONS: Rear visibility. CVT gets confused
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